E. Passyunk holiday installation offers a window into South Philly’s celebrity past

Remember the “holiday greeting card” last year that the residents of the large, window-clad house on the corner of E. Passyunk Ave. and Tasker St. gave to the community by placing pictures of neighbors in each of their many windows?

1960s Philadelphia stars are displayed in the windows this year.
1960s Philadelphia stars are displayed in the windows this year. (Photo: Kate Mellina)

Kate Mellina and Dave Christopher, the people who live in the house, are at it again, only this time, it will blend a unique look into South Philly’s night club and celebrity past with its new neighborly spirit.

You may remember that this series got started with Mellina and Christopher received an odd, but also fascinating, housewarming gift when they moved into their new place: A 12-pound binder chock-full of nearly 200 photos featuring images of Jimmy Durante, Al Martino, Liberace, Bob Hope, Bobby Rydell and South Philly publicist/photographer/columnist Art Tavani.

Back in March, Mellina held a public slideshow event in order to encourage residents to help identify people in the photographs and also to better understand South Philly’s past as a celebrity hot spot. She also alluded that this year’s holiday card would have a 1960s South Philly celebrity twist. And so it does.

There are 26 windows in all, each with a portrait of some of the biggest local celebrities of the day at bygone locations like Palumbo’s and The Venus Lounge. They’ll be lit each night from 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. until New Year’s Day, when the previous “Neighbors” holiday cards get hung back in each window. “Sort of like South Philly past and South Philly present,” Mellina said.

It looks it has been quite the adventure for Mellina. According to a press release:

Over the past year, she’s talked to people like Carmen Dee, an album subject and leader of Palumbo’s orchestra for 35 years, and the daughters of Palumbo emcee Bob London and comedian Phil Jaye.

Bobby Rydell has identified people, as has “John the Barber” Valente whose dad is depicted with singer Jerry Vale and Phillies relief pitcher Jack Baldschun. Valente’s South Philadelphia barbershop is still crammed with photos of the many celebrities whose hair they cut.

Have a story about those star-struck years when local residents rubbed shoulders with celebrities, athletes and politicians? Mellina is encouraging folks to drop a note in the decorated mailbox on the house in order to help her further identify people, locations and events in the vintage photographs. Mellina has pledged to donate the book of photographs to Temple University’s Urban Archives once the work is complete.

One thought on “E. Passyunk holiday installation offers a window into South Philly’s celebrity past

  • November 25, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    On behalf of the Tavani family we are incredibly grateful that Kate Mallina has so lovingly brought to life Uncle Artie’s work. He was a gentle, wonderful man who generously gave of his time and talents to everyone he knew. We are especially grateful that Kate has arranged for Uncle Artie’s work to be donated to the Temple University Archives.

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